I have just begun a very exciting book, Nonduality, by David Loy. It is a philosophical analysis of three major non-dual philosophical systems: Advaita Vedanta, Taoism and Buddhism. It explores notions such as nondual perception and action in a rigorous and yet readable manner. Though is is primarily an academic work, it has already in a couple of chapters opened up some “real-life” philosophical puzzles that have haunted me for some time now!
I came across it in Joan Tollifson’s reading list, which is a rich source for books in the non-duality ballpark.
Very excitingly, the author himself has uploaded the book as a scanned copy here. Please read for a sophisticated and exciting glimpse into the most profound philosophical traditions on the planet!
As a young adult, I loved the writing of Alan Watts. I felt he opened up new dimensions in my understanding of myself and my relationship to the universe. Reading him now as an adult simply reinforces the feeling of wonder at his insight and skill with words.
The root of the matter is the way in which we feel and conceive ourselves as human
beings, our sensation of being alive, of individual existence and identity. We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body—a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”
This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole
realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.
There is no reaching the Self. If Self were to be reached, it would mean that the Self is not here and now and that it is yet to be obtained. What is got afresh will also be lost. So it will be impermanent. What is not permanent is notworth striving for. So I say the Self is not reached. You are the Self, you are already that. Ramana.
If I think of my daily life, I see it as massively structured by the need to achieve things. Perhaps I need to get a job done. Perhaps I need to get it done better than the last time. Perhaps I need to outperform my colleague. I need to love more, or be loved more, and so on and on and on.
Unconsciously, maybe, this habit of achievement is then transferred onto the so called “spiritual” world. I need to achieve peace or happiness. I need to achieve enlightenment. I need to improve spiritually, become better than my fellow seekers.
The quote from Ramana, so brilliantly counter-intuitive yet so simple, puts to rest these empty tricks of the mind. There is nothing to achieve, nothing to perform, nowhere to go. The anxious mind is just making up these stories. Behind them, reality exists, pure, simple, hugely accepting.
It is easy to mistake this as a facile truth and to lapse into self-satisfaction and lethargy. But this is missing the point. It is very hard work to understand that reality exists without effort. Effort is in the realm of the ego; reality is something quite different, and it points to a different intelligence in daily living.
You are the Self, you are already that.
As a meditative exercise, I wonder if it is possible to pay attention to a single thought, watch it arise along with all the symphony of the emotions that it arouses and that arouse it, and then watch it fall away into silence.
What usually happens is that there is a core me that adds fuel to the fire and propels thoughts this way and that according to what I find gratifying or painful. This me invites certain strings of memories and tries to project coherent scenarios of the future.
These spinnings of the thought-emotion complex are like a stick with a spark of flame at its end whirled around rapidly. The illusion of continuity is thus born.
Let’s try to observe the blossoming and fading of each thought and emotion, uncaused and empty in the world.
The meditative attitude has to sit very deep in our bodies and minds, rooted in our flesh, bones and in the very essence of consciousness.
When we begin this journey, we may think occasionally about awareness, or about impermanence. These thoughts and memories may serve to direct our energies in some meaningful way.
But as our understanding grows, the awareness of emptiness or the sense of being in a world is not just a matter of words and thoughts that we read about. Rather, these become a part of a whole vision, to the extent that they challenge, moment to moment, our very conception of reality.
Then we have a chance to step on a path that pulls us out of our ego-centric minds and into a life lived with clarity, in the breath of reality.
So I’m sitting in a bus, watching the traffic pass by and noticing the patterns of shade thrown by the trees on the road. It’s sunny but there are big fat clouds in the sky, blocking the sunlight when they drift across and cooling everything right down. A little boy is sitting right opposite me. Big grin, gaps in his teeth. I’m feeling peaceful and happy watching him play his video game and occasionally stop and gaze out at the world floating by him at the pace of a crawling bus. Happier still at the play of light and shade and cloud and sun, a thermos of coffee in my hand.
Then I notice this guy get on the bus, with a kind of angry energy around him. He is almost clean shaven, with a red mark on his forehead. He locks his gaze with mine from the moment he gets in. My brain patterns instantly change. I can sense my body tensing and my mind throwing up angry defensive thoughts. He walks very slowly down the aisle and then sits opposite me. Stares at me, challenging, and stares away again.
In an minute, for no obvious reason, he switches seats and sits right beside me. I can smell the alcohol on him. He presses into me and I press back , fighting for control over seat space. All my self-possessed peaceful energy of a few minutes ago has evaporated. We are silently pushing at each other, mentally and physically, and for no reason at all I’m suddenly exhausted.
He stops trying to dominate the space. I sneak a glance over at him. He’s fallen asleep and looks curiously defenceless. A doubt enters my mind: was he pushing me or was I imagining it? His head lolls over to my shoulder. I feel spasms of irritation and compassion flood my system. I want to get off the bus as fast as possible.
Whole universes rising and falling within our minds and bodies in the space of minutes.
Relentless awareness. The dissolving of all the boundaries and the tricks of the self.
We don’t like to hear that the self we have nourished so carefully over the years and the decades is narrow and limited.
But it is.
When I calculate outcomes of events, it is mainly myself I am thinking about. In fact, I spend most of my day thinking about myself, filtering events through the lens of the me. Even when I am generous, I am very conscious that I am generous, I am selfless: a stunning paradox if there ever was one!
When someone makes a derogatory remark about me, why does it hurt? I have built up a series of emotions and pictures and narratives about myself and I don’t like that picture disturbed. The picture is generally about my abilities, my looks, my personality. I want a good picture for everyone to view. When the picture is punctured, pain ensues, as Krishnamurti often pointed out. But at the end of the day, it is just a picture.
It is in these senses that our sense of self limited.
We cannot now quickly move to a fantasy of selflessness. We cannot paint wonderful pictures of action and being without self. Instead, what we can honestly do is to watch the activities of the self in all the realms of daily living, with the utmost care and integrity. Without hope and without expectation.
Only then, perhaps, in a flash, the activities of the self become painfully clear. In that shock of recognition, of deep awareness, the self winks out of existence.
Only for the mind to grasp at it again. And our work begins anew.